Home » Non-Fiction, Social Media » Text-only news sites are slowly making a comeback. Here’s why.

Text-only news sites are slowly making a comeback. Here’s why.

4 October 2017

From Poynter:

A few days before Hurricane Irma hit South Florida, I received a query on Twitter from a graphic designer named Eric Bailey.

“Has anyone researched news sites capability to provide low-bandwidth communication of critical info during crisis situations?” he asked.

The question was timely — two days later, CNN announced that they created a text-only version of their site with no ads or videos.

. . . .

The same week, NPR began promoting its text-only site, text.npr.org on social media as a way for people with limited Internet connectivity during Hurricane Irma to receive updated information.

. . . .

These text-only sites — which used to be more popular in the early days of the Internet, when networks were slower and bandwidth was at a premium – are incredibly useful, and not just during natural disasters. They load much faster, don’t contain any pop-ups or ads or autoplay videos, and help people with low bandwidth or limited Internet access. They’re also beneficial for people with visual impairments who use screen readers to navigate the Internet.

. . . .

NPR’s text.npr.org is likely the oldest example of a working text-only news site that’s still in existence. It originally launched as thin.npr.org back in June 2005, in response to the September 11th attacks — when many news sites struggled to stay online amidst record traffic numbers — and also to help people who were navigating to npr.org back in 2005 on handheld mobile devices like Blackberries.

Earlier this month, a number of improvements were made to the site (which redirects to thin.npr.org) aimed specifically at low-bandwidth users.

“More recently, our full site [npr.org] has made major accessibility gains,” write Patrick Cooper, NPR’s director of web and engagement, and Sara Goo, the managing editor of digital news. “But as accessible or as fast as you can make your full site —and speed is critical for us — low-bandwidth situations are a different challenge. [Our] improvements focused on those users in particular.”

Text.npr.org’s improvements included  “adding a caching layer to greatly improve speed and adding code to make the site display well on phones,” write Cooper and Goo. “We also increase[d] the number of stories on the [text.npr.org] homepage, made the homepage use the story ordering from our full site, updated the navigation links, removed an interim page in each story that showed only the first paragraph (something that was more valuable before we improved the page speed), and created an easier to remember “text.npr.org” redirect for the site.”

In recent months, TwitterFacebook, and Google News have also published their own versions of stripped-down sites that use less bandwidth, mainly aimed at users in emerging markets who might not have access to faster network connections. Earlier this week, Twitter announced that it was now experimenting with an Android app designed to use less data for people with limited connectivity.

. . . .

Kramer: I’m curious. What kinds of things can be stripped from sites for low-bandwidth users and people with visual impairments?

Bowden: Those are two very distinct user groups but some of the approaches bleed over and can be applied together.

For low-bandwidth users: Cut the fluff. No pictures, no video, no ads or tracking. Text files are good enough here. Anything else is just fluff.

Link to the rest at Poynter

PG is happy to have high-speed internet access, but he likes the stripped-down sites because he can scan them for interesting items more quickly.

Non-Fiction, Social Media

15 Comments to “Text-only news sites are slowly making a comeback. Here’s why.”

  1. Gee, like this site (most of the time. 😉 )

    What was old is new again.

  2. I can read and skim much faster than waiting for a lame, poorly produced video to get to the damn point. A picture may be worth 10,000 words but not if 9,000 of those words are irrelevant.

  3. Love these sites. Its nice to just be able to read without first clicking on pause buttons to stop the annoying blather. Like PG does, I can scan far faster than they can speak, and that allows me to quickly pick out the real information I went there for.

    Whoever invented the autorun video should be flogged.

  4. Didn’t know text-only news sites existed. Thank you!

  5. Autoplay movies, Flash, and other “media content” made most news sites unusable for me before broadband became available in my area. But even after getting broadband, my rage at getting blasted by LOUD NOISE embedded in their “content” kept me from making more than a couple of tries to find “news.”

    Well, that and having each (short) article broken into half a dozen or more pieces of a dozen or so lines, so you had to download NEW dancing annoyances unless you just gave up entirely.

  6. I absolutely hate video of newscasts in what looked to be a newspaper article, especially when the article is verbatim what they say in the video. The video is not needed–I can read! I can’t always watch a video due to sound issues.

  7. Miss Cranky Pants

    I’m with y’all. I loved the old days and the text and small pics here and there, but I’m a word geek. I don’t care about pics or videos or embedded media crap.

    Just gimme the wordz, man.

  8. Thanks for the links! I avoid news sites because of the videos and popups. Now I can check the headlines again.

  9. Text-only is the raison d’être for services like Instapaper, which will convert any story into text-only. Small surprise people would be interested.

  10. Wouldn’t it be great if the “Reading View” could be a default setting?

  11. I love this. There will always be a place for text-only, just as there will always be need for amateur radio in a world of cell phones.

    Sometimes, you’re low on bandwidth, unable to access the cell towers, or out of battery juice. Nice to be able to reach out and find the news.

    BTW, most radio amateurs (hams) are able to hook up to auxiliary power in an emergency.

  12. Ads and pagination issues are why I used to just hit “print” (but not actually print out the page) — I’d get the whole page, at once, no stupid ads, just the story (and photos). Text-only should be more of a thing.

  13. sorry, NPR in 2005 as a latecomer to text based news sites.

    Linux Weekly News (lwn.net) has been in operation since 1997 and remained text based the entire time https://lwn.net/op/FAQ.lwn

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